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She approached the edge of the pool, grabbed a gun and started firing on the children in the water.

Sounds pretty horrifying, right? Not when the female shooter is your 87-year-old mother-in-law toting a water pistol, and she’s aiming her watery weapon at her own great-grandchildren.

Mom & Dad Rowe, December 2010

I have always admired Mike’s mom’s spirit. Christened Pearl Jean Flannery in her Kentucky birthplace, Jean Rowe has led a remarkable life. Along with Poppa, she raised seven children on lots of love and little money. Easter photos of the Rowe family reveal four daughters and three sons immaculately attired in matching hand-sewn dresses and suits tailored by Mom. For twenty years she and Dad served on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ in California, and the combination of their love for people and God changed  their piece of the world.

But in recent days, the fire in Mom’s eyes has faded to a soft blue ember. As the years have advanced, her ability to retain new information has retreated.  She knows her children and their spouses, her 22 grandchildren and their husbands and wives, but it’s getting harder every year (hey, for me too!) to sort out the 26 great-grandchildren. This past December, Mom and Dad moved into an assisted living facility not far from Mike’s youngest sister. Yet lovely as it is, the newness of the surroundings aren’t easy for Mom. There are no long-term memories to anchor the thoughts that pull away from their moorings.

So to watch what happened at our annual Family Camp this year was a marvel. A miracle of the most wondrous sort. The Kennedy family sport is football. For the Rowes, the playing field has always been water.

I stood next to Poppa as we observed Mom, held erect by the buoyancy of the water, engage in water wars with the great-grands.  Without taking his eyes off his beloved wife of 68 years, Poppa quietly commented, “At home she doesn’t go to meals, can’t engage in activities. She doesn’t remember. But look at her now!” Maybe it was the chlorine that made his eyes a little red.

And I looked, and laughed, and marveled too. For those moments in that West Virginia pool where she has been playing with her family for 30 years, Mom was free. Free of the constraints of her walker. Free of the need to retain and recall new information. Free to be whom she has always been – a woman of enormous spunk and spark, soul and spirit.

It was a resurrection, I said to Mike. The real Jean has resurfaced, offered a friend. But maybe, more than anything, what I witnessed was a divine reminder.  A reminder that Mom’s body, like all of ours eventually, is slowing down, and some memories have irretrievably slipped their moorings. But each day we move closer to new life and a new body –what I Peter calls new birth into a living hope.

Seeing Mom play in the water again was like getting mail from God.

A postcard from heaven.

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